The big business of backyard birdfeeding

Backyard birdfeeding has long been a “big business” in North America.

The practice is estimated to account for well over $1 billion each year to the economy, and impacts are felt on the local, regional and national scales. Birdfeeding adds to revenues of agriculture, processors and purveyors, feed and grain suppliers, big box stores, specialty retailers and small independent shops. Backyard bird feeding allows humans an opportunity to interact with and increase their knowledge of the natural world and inhabitants of their local environments, and in the face of continuing loss and degradation of natural habitats due to human activities, provides many bird species a helping hand in their struggle to survive.

There are a number of negative myths about birdfeeding which have been clearly dispelled by scientific research. One is that feeding birds will cause them not to migrate. This is simply not true. Bird migration is a biological imperative under hormonal control directly related to the length of daylight hours (photoperiod.) Without physical restraint, you cannot stop a wild bird from following its biological imperatives. One example is the maintenance of hummingbird feeders in winter. Along with the work of a number of other researchers, we have helped to show that these tiny treasures can and do survive winter in North America (esp. in the Southeast,) and even return to their same winter sites year after year for as long as they survive. In South Carolina, hummingbirds have been known to spend winter along the coast since 1909, and I’d wager they’ve been coming to spend winter here forever.

Another myth is that feeding birds will make them lazy and dependent on artificial food sources.

Another untruth, perhaps perpetuated by folks too lazy or uncaring to provide some assistance for creatures that inhabited North America for countless millenia before any humans arrived on the scene and began systematically effecting their (and other wild creatures’) disappearance. The food we provide our feathered friends is supplemental, they cannot survive on what we provide alone. However, research has shown that a few seeds or bits of suet during extreme winter conditions can make the difference in whether or not an individual survives a bitter cold winter night, let alone a stretch of extreme winter weather when natural foods may be most difficult to find.

Feeding birds is a “win, win” proposition; you get to see and learn about the lives of some of nature’s most amazing creations right in your own backyard, and these wonderful creatures get a helping hand in their daily struggles to survive.